“The United State” – Justin Wells

4 stars (out of 5)

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“The United State” is more than an album, it’s a journey and it’s a journey that we all take, from the cradle to the grave or, more accurately, the womb to the tomb. That’s the way Justin Wells conceived the project; he came up with concept then wrote the songs to fit in with the storyboarded sequence. It turned his normal way of writing upside down, imposing a completely different discipline to the creative process. The recording process was a similar trial, using a host of guest musicians to create some fascinating sonic textures and styles ranging across atmospheric instrumental, a cappella, country, country rock, slow blues and Southern funk to bring the story to life (and death).

The album opens in the womb with a short, atmospheric instrumental featuring slide and ambient guitar sounds and ends with the ethereal a cappella of “Farewell, Mr Hooper” representing death and between the two, there are ten strong and varied songs moving the narrative along. The second single from the album, “No Time For a Broken Heart” is out now; it’s a nod in the direction of The Band and the message is pretty simple – life ain’t easy, but we have to take what it throws at us and get on with it. The electric piano and resonator move the song just a little out of the country mainstream into more eclectic territory.

Other standouts for me are “Never Better”, a four-to-the-floor stomp with a Southern boogie feel given a twist with a touch of electric piano again and the slow blues “After the Fall” with a full band sound, including three guitars and some powerful solos and twin guitar breaks hinting at the stylings of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor/Ronnie Wood. The theme of the song is classic obsession with the ‘fallen woman’ and the inability to walk away. It’s the centrepiece of the album, showcasing Justin Wells’ rasping blues vocal and some classic blues soloing. It’s followed by the Lowell George-tinged “It’ll All Work Out”, which is dominated by keys and some lovely slide playing. The chorus sounds positive but the message is that people will tell you it’ll all work out, but it ain’t necessarily so.

“The United State” is packed with songs that work perfectly well in isolation but, in sequence, tell a universal story; we all know the ending, but the interest is in how you get there and this is a very interesting album indeed.

“The United State” is released on Friday August 28th on SINGULAR RECORDINGS (SNG202001JW).